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Beloved | Part 2, Chapter 24 | Summary

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Summary

Memories of the past come flooding back to Paul D as he sits on the front porch of the church where he has taken refuge after moving out of Sethe's place. After Mr. Garner died, schoolteacher took over management of Sweet Home, and the lives of Sethe, Paul D, and the other slaves were abruptly altered for the worse. Now Paul D wonders if there was really much of a difference between Mr. Garner and schoolteacher; both were slave owners who did what they pleased. If they called them men or broke them into children, did that change what they were? Paul D had always considered Halle and Sixo men; he is not so sure about his own manhood.

Paul D remembers how, after the Cherokee told him to follow the tree blossoms, he never wanted to stay put—not until he found Sethe, that is. He wanted to live a life with her and is saddened that it will never happen.

He remembers trying to escape Sweet Home with Sixo, the Thirty-Mile Woman, Halle, Sethe, and others. He and Sixo were caught by schoolteacher and four other white men, but Thirty-Mile Woman escaped and Sethe did later on. Sixo was tied to a tree and burned, all the while laughing. He called out, "Seven-O!" and was shot. Paul D overheard schoolteacher talking about selling him for $900 and making Sweet Home "worth the trouble it was causing him." As they chained him up, Paul D realized that Sixo was laughing because Thirty-Mile Woman was carrying his child. Back at Sweet Home, in chains, Paul D sees Sethe and tells her about Sixo. Sethe has gotten her children out and will soon be leaving. Knowing he would never see Sethe again, his heart stops.

Analysis

Through this telling of Paul D's memories, the author develops the theme of past versus present. Paul D is having doubts about what he felt was true about his past. The story of the escape from Sweet Home has been told from the perspectives of several different characters, each of whom expresses it differently. Just like Paul D and Sethe, the reader gradually sees the full horror of the story. Paul D once thought Garner was a good person who treated the slaves as men, but then he realizes that he and the others were foolish to think that. Garner did not make them men anymore than schoolteacher made them children. Both were simply exercising their power as slave owners to use the slaves as they wished.

The failed escape of Sixo and Paul D is yet another illustration of the cruelty of slavery. Sixo is burned because schoolteacher does not believe he can be salvaged and put to good use as a slave. When Sixo sings out in defiance, they shoot him, not to put him out of his misery but just to shut him up.

Paul D is intrigued to learn he is worth $900. It is a dehumanizing experience to learn that his value can be weighed in dollars and not by human qualities, such as his ability to love, value relationships, think, and care. Once more it is a return to the theme of the loss of identity in slavery.

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